Night Bazaar asked me to write a guest post about dystopias. The post turned into a long one — and that’s the drastically cut version that doesn’t talk about much of the stuff I started out to talk about. I think I will be writing more about dystopias in the medium term future. And much of it will be an attempt to find a satisfactory answer to a fan I met at Readercon last week named Adriana, who asked me a series of big questions about my treatment of the Syndicates in Spin State and Spin Control … and then vanished before I could really come up with a satisfactory answer. So, Adriana, if you’re out there, I’m still trying to answer you. Or at least I’m thinking about it….
Dystopia is about the gap between how things are and how we want them to be. That gap is called conflict. And though conflict is often invoked when writers talk about how to hook readers, most people never really unpack what it means in science fiction and fantasy. SF and Fantasy are transformational genres. They’re not just about getting a date to the prom or whether Elizabeth is going to marry Darcy. They’re about reimagining the world. So the central conflict of good SF and fantasy — the kind that readers remember and talk about long after they’ve read the final page — is not inside the book but outside of it. It’s the gap between the world the you and your readers live in and the world you and your readers want to live in….
Crack open even the most bleak and cynical dystopia, and you will find a utopia folded into it like the fortune in a fortune cookie. Or let’s put it another way: Dystopia is the subway station. Inertia (or readerly cynicism) is the gap you have to get your readers safely across if you want them to climb on your train. And Utopia is where the train is going.
Looked at in this way, the difference between dystopia and utopia is simply one of emphasis. A dystopia gets readers on the train by telling them how bad it is where they are now. A utopia does it by telling them how great things could be if they take the leap of faith and come along for the ride. But there’s always a train, and last station at the end of the line is always Utopia.
You can read the full post at Night Bazaar.